More Than Just a Sticker: How TAGteach Prevents Kids from Being Punished by Rewards

rewards!, 3D rendering, rough street sign collection

There is a book called “Punished by Rewards” by Alfie Kohn. I saw the title and thought “how can that be?” and so I bought the book. Dr. Kohn explains how endless stickers and charts and ribbons and praise and approval to children for every single accomplishment no matter how small is creating children who cannot function without outside approval. They have no confidence in their own abilities and low self esteem because they judge themselves through the eyes of others. They are not self motivated and do not derive satisfaction from achievement for its own sake since they have been systematically trained to look to others for approval as a result of the frivolous doling out of rewards by parents, teachers and coaches. This is of course an over-simplification, since it is quite a long book with lots of scientific references, but you get the idea.

The Praise Junkie

Theresa McKeon (TAGteach cofounder and professional gymnastics coach) calls these kids “praise junkies”. They are the ones that always want the coach to look at them. They can’t work independently. They are not focused on learning, but are focused on what the coach (parent, teacher, etc) thinks. They require constant approval and encouragement. They may even misbehave in order to have the attention focused back on them if other children are getting in the way of this.

Prevention of Praise Junkie Development

TAGteach eliminates the conditions that create and maintain the praise junkies. With TAGteach the tangible reward is linked to the tag point through the tag. That is the tag (click) comes immediately as the behaviour occurs and if there is a sticker or other tangible reward, that comes later. It is the immediacy of the tag that makes the difference between a tag (which is a reinforcer) and a reward which comes after the fact (and may or may not be reinforcing). Forms of approval that come after the fact may reinforce the attention seeking and praise junkie behaviour and not the behaviour associated with the skill we are trying to teach.

TAGteach provides a mechanism for reinforcing the desired behaviour at the exact moment it occurs and not other behaviours which may come afterward. The tag sound is neutral and does not convey emotion or social approval. There is no sense of being judged by the person with the tagger. The tag just means “yes that was right”. Absence of the tag directs the child to self assess and try again. TAGteach fosters independent thought and self-motivation since the learning process is now in the hands of the child as facilitated by the coach or teacher. TAGteach creates active learners who are in control of their own learning and who gain confidence in their own ability to achieve without dependence on the opinion of others.

Transition to Natural Reinforcement

Here is a video that illustrates the transition from TAGteach-facilitated learning to independent self-motivation. This video is edited to remove the repetition – but each tag point was repeated several times to the point of confidence before moving to the next tag point. Notice at one point Lear is frightened and refuses to jump off the step to the helper. A few minutes later he is pushing the helper away saying “no I don’t need help!” and swimming around by himself for fun, with no external reinforcement.

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